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Atlanta Hawks earn harsh offseason grade from ESPN

Not everyone loved the summer.

NBA: Summer League-New York Knicks at Atlanta Hawks Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

As expected, the Atlanta Hawks were busy this summer. The team entered June’s NBA Draft with four selections in the top 34 picks and, even after a deal to send the No. 34 overall choice away for future considerations, Travis Schlenk added three first-round rookies to the mix. From there, the team completed its roster with 15 guaranteed contracts before the end of July, made multiple trades and focused on the future, albeit to mixed reviews.

With that as the backdrop, Kevin Pelton of ESPN assessed the summer performance of every NBA team and, in short, he did not enjoy what Schlenk and company elected to do. Atlanta was given a “D-” grade and only the Charlotte Hornets (F) were graded as harshly.

The Hawks’ three biggest moves of the offseason involved point guards coming and going. When Luka Doncic slipped to Atlanta at the third pick, the Hawks opted to trade down two spots and take Oklahoma point guard Trae Young, picking up a future first-rounder from the Dallas Mavericks in the process. After an up (Las Vegas) and down (Salt Lake City) summer-league run from Young, Atlanta could regret passing on Doncic if he lives up to his statistical projections.

Atlanta used much of its cap space on adding Jeremy Lin, coming off a ruptured patella, as a veteran mentor to share time with Young. With a crowd at the point, the Hawks sent incumbent starter Dennis Schroder to the Oklahoma City Thunder as part of a deal taking back Carmelo Anthony’s contract. That trade could yield a first-round pick, but only if the Thunder make the playoffs in 2022.

At this point, it is clear that many pundits (both in Atlanta and elsewhere) did not view the Young-Doncic transaction in a positive light. Rather than litigate that swap again in this space, let’s assume that there are potential outcomes that trend positively and negatively, leaving room for all opinions.

From there, though, it is tough to make a calculation that would be this dire for the Hawks. On its face, Atlanta overpaid in the trade to secure Lin’s services from the Nets, but the organization did receive draft help for the future as part of the swap. Beyond that, Lin is a (very) helpful piece in the near term, with enough size to play alongside Young and the talent to perform at a starter level when asked to play the point guard position.

The other major move of the offseason was the deal to send Dennis Schröder to Oklahoma City in a trade involving Carmelo Anthony, Mike Muscala, Justin Anderson and draft capital. Even the harshest characterization of the move provides for Atlanta’s future-based agenda being satisfied, as the Hawks cleared their long-term salary cap sheet while potentially netting a first round pick. In some respects, fans of Schröder’s game could argue that the team made itself worse in the short-term for the privilege of future flexibility but, when the Young maneuver was executed, there was no room for another point guard with high usage and Schröder’s uneven performance (particularly on the defensive end) in 2017-18 seemingly gave Atlanta’s front office motivation to move on.

Finally, the remainder of the draft could be part of the calculation, as the Hawks added Kevin Huerter (No. 19) and Omari Spellman (No. 30) to the mix. Huerter is generally viewed as a reasonable investment where he was chosen and, even after an absence from Summer League, there is a lot to like about him as a prospect. The pick of Spellman was not viewed in such a positive light (myself included) but, in the grand scheme, the choice with the No. 30 pick isn’t likely to be a pivot point when taking an entire summer into account. The choice to send the No. 34 pick away was controversial but Atlanta seemingly wanted nothing to do with yet another rookie and managed to wrangle a reasonable return (at least in a vacuum) in exchange for that choice, even if it meant eschewing the right to draft a quality prospect in the near term.

All told, it would be easy to evaluate Atlanta’s offseason in a negative light, especially if one harbored significant distaste toward the Young-Doncic trade. Still, it takes a combination of three separately negative evaluations to come to a “D-” grade and that appears overly harsh when considering the team’s present-day goals.

Yes, the Hawks could have Luka Doncic on the roster right now and that would be very nice, especially if you believe he is/was the best player available in the 2018 NBA Draft. With that said, Atlanta has a high-upside prospect in Trae Young, a likely lottery pick in the 2019 draft (via Dallas) and significant salary cap flexibility moving forward. When combined together into a big-picture offseason, seeing that as something of a disaster (as this grade seems to suggest) is difficult to grasp.

Stay tuned.